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Introducing animals into the classroom – how it can help children’s emotional wellbeing

The start of any academic year arrives with a sense of excitement with the whole school welcoming new faces, pupils and teachers alike. This year was no different at St Wystan’s, as the School appointed a new Head of Wellbeing. He is about 7cm high, doesn’t yet talk, feels quite scaly and brings a smile to the faces of every pupil at St Wystan’s School. Meet Tiny – St Wystan’s new school pet!
A school pet had become the hottest topic of conversation at the independent schools pupil-led School Council (the forum for pupil voice) meetings. Staff knew that the time had come, to investigate, which pet really would suit the School and along came a tiny (in name and nature) horsefield tortoise.
‘Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms.’ George Eliot
The benefits of pets are well-known and there is much research to back up the old phrase ‘man’s best friend’. There is power in a loyal companion, who gives unconditional love, never asks questions, never judges one’s actions and gives endless friendship. A study conducted by Matt Cassel, from the University of Cambridge, found that children were more likely to turn to a pet for comfort, when faced with adversity than they were to a sibling. Looking at your own household, whether it maybe a cat, a dog or even a hamster, there is something infinitely reassuring that you have a pet to love you unconditionally, even during the worst times.
Deputy Headteacher, Mrs Catherine Ralph comments “it is a joy to watch our pupils’ fascination every time they meet and look after Tiny. He will bring many years of fun and learning to St Wystan’s School!”
St Wystan’s is a small, nurturing independent private school in Repton, Derbyshire, its small stature means that members of staff get to know the children as individuals. They know which child might benefit from some time with the tortoise; those who might need a stroke of the shell and a comforting word with Tiny. It is thought that pets can help to develop pupils’ empathy, as well as their sense of responsibility, as they begin to take on care of tortoise duties. For some children, this will be the very first time they have ever taken care of another living thing.
St Wystan’s are very proud of the personal development our pupils make and this forms a large part of the School ethos. Tiny, the tortoise, even ties in with their PSHCEE curriculum, helping the pupils to develop care and compassion, as well as build confidence with animals.

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